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Like most tankers, we were only in port for two reasons: loading or discharging. Loading meant connecting huge rubber hoses to the deck manifolds, with the shore pumps then blasting in the oil to fill up our tanks. Discharging meant the ships pumps sending the oil the other way, to fill up the shore tanks.
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Us three cadets were each put one on of the three watches: twelve to four, four to eight or eight to twelve. The first job we had, once we were moored to the quay, was to go round and drive large wooden bungs into the deck scuppers. That way, if there was an overflow, the oil would stay on the ship, rather than run off and pollute the harbour.
The cadet who caught first watch would then go round with the duty mate and set up the pipes. The whole ship, above deck and below, was a mass of inter-connecting pipes, so that each tank can be set up to receive or send oil. A loading plan was drawn up by the chief mate and then the cadet and duty sailor, under the guidance of the watch officer, had to wind open all the valves, using big hand wheels 3 foot across, 30 turns apiece.
The first time I had to do this, I simply couldn’t finish opening the valves – they were too stiff and I wasn’t enough.